The Pentagon has made the decision to defuel and permanently close the US Navy’s Red Hill fuel storage facility in Hawaii. The order comes after a fuel spill into a water supply well, prompting calls for the site to be closed by the Hawaiian congressional delegation and the Hawaii Department of Health.
In a statement, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the Navy would come up with a plan for defuelling Red Hill by May 31. The aim is to take all the necessary preparatory steps and complete the task within 12 months.
“We will then proceed to permanently close the Red Hill facility, including completing any necessary environmental cleanup around the facility,” Austin said. “That’s the right thing.”
Rather than centralizing its fuel supplies at a known location near Pearl Harbor, the Pacific Fleet will now distribute its fuel supplies across the theater of operations in accordance with the Navy’s new doctrine of distributed maritime operations. This will adapt the force’s power supply chain to the reality of its far-flung and dispersed operations and make it less vulnerable to modern threats, the Pentagon said.
“A centrally located fuel storage facility of this magnitude probably made sense in 1943 when Red Hill was built. And Red Hill has served our armed forces well for many decades. But it makes a lot less sense now,” Austin said.
He also made a pledge to help thousands of soldiers in Hawaii affected by water well contamination and pledged to provide them with the best possible health care and help bring about a “return to normal” for those who were evicted from their homes.
“This is great news for the people of Hawaii,” Gov. David Ige said in a statement. “Our national defense begins with the health and safety of our people, and there are better strategic fueling solutions today than there were when the Red Hill camp was built.”
Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) — who has criticized the Navy for its continued opposition to the site’s closure — added that his office will continue to “keep the Department of Defense’s feet in the fire” to ensure the Pentagon follows through.
The Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility is a unique asset to naval operations in the Pacific. Between 1940 and 1943, miners carved 20 giant tanks out of a solid ridge of basalt just outside of Honolulu, then connected them by pipeline to the piers at Pearl Harbor. Among the largest facilities of its kind, it contains 250 million gallons of fuel needed to power the Navy’s westward reach. The terrain’s elevation provides gravity-assisted flow, and its underground location was designed to be difficult to hit with weapons available at the time.